Thursday, February 24, 2011

Study- Electrocution May Be Behind India's Dwindling Vulture Population

Indian white-rumped vulture

Vultures may be viewed as dirty and unclean by some, but they play a major role in disposing of the dead and the diseased. Without these special birds, it would be easy to say that our lives would be helpless. The birds are also remarkably adaptable, which means they can be found circling above towns and cities looking out for anything that is dead and on the verge of rotting. But in India, it is a different story. In the past years, the vulture population has declined heavily due to multiple reasons. They include food shortage and diclofenac poisoning, which occurs when the birds devour the flesh of domestic livestock that has been contaminated with this chemical.

However, researchers from the Ela Foundation and the National Institute of Virology (NIV) have recently stated that electrocution may also be the factor behind the vultures' downfall. Their research was based on the behavioral and virological studies conducted on an Indian white-rumped vulture which was found dead in an open field at Bhangaon village in Shrigonda taluka. According to Shailesh Pawar of NIV, samples tested but showed no evidence of blood parasites or infection like malaria or Avian influenza viruses. This indicated that the bird was healthy, but was fatally electrocuted from electricity wires in Parner sixty kilometers from the point of release. Satish Pande, an ornithologist for the Ela Foundation, has been investigating the vulture population all his life and also agrees that electrocution is one of the factors to the vultures' demise. He even says that, in addition to diclofenac, vultures have also died as a result of consuming pesticides such as organochlorine and organophosphorus which prevent the carcass from decomposing. He also added that diclofenac was first thought to cause thanatosis, but this unusual behavior trait is actually a survival tactic to fake death when approached by intruders.

In my opinion, this article gives a clear idea of how urbanization has contributed to the downfall of India's vultures. Although these birds are adapted for life in the suburbs, the increase in urban development has limited their chances of survival. Electricity wires are one of the factors in this rapid increase, where they would be set up high at a certain altitude which vultures occupy when flying. As a result, they end up flying into these wires and perish. According to Mr. Pande, one possible solution would be to identify areas that have vulture population. These include pockets in Konkan, Marathwada, and Rajasthan. And where there are vultures, urban development should be strictly prohibited. Otherwise, India would risk losing more birds.

View article here        

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